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Rocket glitch fixed, Russia launches satellite to enhance military communications

Russia successfully launched a military communications satellite into orbit Thursday (Feb. 20). The launch took place about one month later than planned due to a technical issue.

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket blasted off at 3:24 a.m. EST (0824 GMT or 11:24 a.m. Moscow time) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, according to Russian space agency Roscosmos.

"The launch of the launch vehicle, and the launch of the satellite into the calculated orbit, took place as usual," Roscosmos said in a statement (opens in new tab), which was translated into English using translation software. 

Video: Russia launches military satellite atop Soyuz rocket
Related: Russia's space centers and launch sites in pictures

A Russian Soyuz-2.1a rocket launches the Meridian M communications satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia, on Feb. 20, 2020. (Image credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

Ground controllers have received telemetry (or data) from the deployed spacecraft, which is called Meridian M, showing that the spacecraft is working normally so far, Roscosmos said.

The rocket was supposed to lift off on Jan. 24, but the launch was delayed due to a technical problem in the Soyuz's third stage, according to Chinese space media Xinhua (opens in new tab). "The Soyuz-2 rocket had to be removed from the launch pad and returned to the assembly and testing facility to fix the problem," Xinhua said.

Meridian M is supposed to help ships and reconnaissance aircraft communicate along the northern sea region of Russia, as well as help expand satellite communications stations in more remote regions in Siberia and the Far East, Roscosmos added.

This is the first Soyuz-2 rocket family launch of 2020 from Plesetsk. In late December, a Rockot booster converted from an intercontinental ballistic missile successfully launched from Plesetsk, with three Gonets-M communications satellites on board. Rockot may also have carried a military payload, called Blits-M, that is meant to reflect lasers, according to industry-monitoring website RussianSpaceWeb.com (opens in new tab)

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.